Moral Theory. What makes things right or wrong?

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1 Moral Theory What makes things right or wrong?

2 Consider: Moral Disagreement We have disagreements about right and wrong, about how people ought or ought not act. When we do, we (sometimes!) reason with one another trying to settle these disagreements. Moral Theory studies/evaluates the kinds of reasons we offer.

3 Is lying wrong? Example: Yes: because blah-blah-blah No: because blah-blah-blah We appeal to reasons, or general principles ( blah-blah-blah ) to defend/explain our opinions. A moral theory is an explanation of what these general principles are or ought to be.

4 Utilitarianism

5 John Stuart Mill u 19 th c. moral/political philosopher; social activist; early feminist u Proponent of Utilitarianism, first developed by Jeremy Bentham u Author of On Liberty, where he defended individual rights such as free speech

6 The Question:

7 Mill asks: What is the Summum bonum? That is: What is the greatest good? For Mill, the answer to this question provides the fundamental principle of morality.

8 The Answer:

9 Mill s Answer: Happiness Which leads him to ---

10 UTILITARIANISM --a.k.a.-- The Greatest Happiness Principle...actions are right in proportion as they tend to produce happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain...

11 Distinctions:

12 Two Kinds of Moral Theories: Consequentialist n The moral value of an act is determined by the consequences of performing that act. I.e., something external to the act what happens as a result of doing it. Mill s utilitarianism is a version of consequentialism. Non-consequentialist The consequences of performing an act do not by themselves determine its moral value. The moral value of an act arises from something internal to the act itself Kant: The value of an act is determined by one s reasons for doing it. Rawls Theory of Justice is Kantian in spirit.

13 Non-Consequentialist Moral Theories: Certain acts are just right inherently or wrong. That is, the moral value of an act stems from something internal to the act itself. (E.g., On Kant's theory, the value of an act depends upon the reasons one has for performing it, not from its consequences.)

14 Kant vs. Utilitarianism: Utilitarianism: Mill s theory And the basis for much social policy. A form of consequentialism: An act is right if it has good consequences Morality is fundamentally about the consequences of our actions, specifically, about the amount of happiness (or unhappiness) we cause in the world Kant s moral theory: A form of nonconsequentialism: An act is right if it s done out of a sense of moral obligation. Morality is fundamentally about what goes on inside us, specifically about the reasons (intentions) we have for acting, not about the results (consequences).

15 Consequentialism An act is: morally right if it has good consequences; morally wrong if it has bad consequences. Question: OK, but what makes certain consequences good or bad?

16 Instrumental versus Intrinsic Goodness or Value Instrumental Value: n The value something has if it is useful (i.e., instrumental) in obtaining something else of value. The value of tools. Tools have value because they allow you to do something you (already) value. Dependent upon something having intrinsic value. Intrinsic Value: n The value something has when it is valued in and of itself, apart from its role in obtaining anything else. What has value for itself, apart from it s usefulness. Mill is concerned with the question of what has intrinsic value.

17 Intrinsic Value So, something has instrumental value (instrumental goodness) because it helps obtain something else that has value. That something else eventually has to be something that intrinsic value. So, the real question for Mill is: What makes certain consequences intrinsically good?

18 Hedonism: u A theory about what has intrinsic value u The only thing that is intrinsically good, that is valued in and of itself, is happiness. This is Mill s view. u Mill: by happiness is intended pleasure or the absence of pain.

19 Mill s Argument for Hedonism Strictly speaking, Mill admits, this cannot be proven. What proof is possible that pleasure is good? According to Bentham (an earlier utilitarian), happiness/pleasure is the only thing actually intrinsically valued by everyone. People may define happiness differently, but it is the only thing that everyone values in and of itself.

20 Utilitarianism = Consequentialism + Hedonism Consequentialism: Acts are morally right only to the extent that they produce good consequences; plus Hedonism: Those consequences are good only to the extent that they create happiness. Utilitarianism adopts hedonism as a value theory.

21 If it feels good, do it?

22 Are all pleasures equal? Some kinds of pleasure are more desirable than others. (Different strokes for different folks!) Mill says that intellectual pleasures are more desirable than physical pleasures. They are preferred by those who know both. For Mill, pleasure isn t limited to pleasures of the flesh. Some pleasures, Mill thinks, are better than others.

23 Mill on Intellectual Pleasures [T]hose who are equally acquainted with... both... [prefer an] existence which employs their higher faculties. Few... would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals,...; no intelligent human being would consent to be a fool,... even [if]... the fool... is better satisfied with his lot than they are with theirs.... It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. [J.S, Mill, Utilitarianism]

24 Whose Happiness Counts? For utilitarians, everyone s happiness counts equally What matters is not whose happiness is involved, but how much overall happiness. Utilitarianism: An act is morally right to the extent that it maximizes overall happiness (i.e., pleasure or the absence of pain), and wrong to the extent it does not.

25 Application:

26 What is the morally right thing to do? 1. Determine the knowable consequences for all options. 2. Estimate how each option will affect people s happiness. 3. Calculate the overall gain or loss of happiness for each option. 4. Perform that act which maximizes overall happiness.

27 Social Policy Utilitarian reasoning is often used in setting social policies. It advocates employing a kind of costbenefit analysis. So, utilitarian reasoning is often employed in economics. There are sophisticated mathematical models for calculating expected utility.

28 Problems:

29 Do Ends Justify Means? Since utilitarianism is concerned with the consequences of acts, then your intentions aren t morally relevant. If hurting some people brings about greatest overall happiness, then it is wrong not to do so. If the ends bring more happiness than the unhappiness caused by the means, then the ends do justify the means.

30 Fairness, Justice, and Rights What if the greatest good for the majority requires substantial unjust costs for a minority? What if what we need to do to maximize happiness is unfair? If maximizing overall happiness is the ultimate moral principle, then following it could never be morally wrong (in fact, not following it would always be morally wrong). Utilitarianism has no way to account for justice or individual rights if they don t maximize happiness.

31 Mill: On Liberty n In On Liberty, Mill defended individual liberties (such as the right to free speech the right to say things most people find offensive) against the so-called tyranny of the majority. n But he did so on utilitarian grounds. n He argued that recognizing individual rights would, in the end, bring about more overall happiness. For example: we re better off allowing people to say things we don t like. This implies, for example, that slavery is wrong only because it doesn t maximize happiness.

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